Tag Archives: Keziah Dial

Henderson Ashworth 52 Ancestors, 52 Weeks

I think it is important to place perspective on each of our ancestor’s stories, eek out each life lesson we can learn from our history. I think many people would look at the life of Henderson Ashworth and think, his family had an impact on the area where they lived because they were considered “people of color”.  Even if they were European and Native American, not of African descent, their legacy lives on. For me, the best part of his story was the  life he led with his wife and family.

February 5, 1840 saw the passing of a law, enacted to prohibit the immigration of free blacks into the State of Texas. For those who lived there, the free blacks who refused to leave would be sold into slavery. They wanted to make the color of skin the standard by which people of servitude were determined.

By December 12, 1840 “The Ashworth Act” had been passed, brought about by influential white citizens who felt that the Ashworth family should be “grandfathered-in”. It had been signed by 71 citizens. The basis, these 71 citizens felt, was that William Ashworth and his brother Abner Ashworth had contributed generously to the Texas cause during the Revolution. This Ashworth Act would allow the Ashworth family to remain in Texas as Free People of Color.

This is the life to which Henderson Ashworth was born of William Ashworth and Deleide Gallier in 1827. Twenty-nine years later, his life would cease at the hands of a broken vigilante system, hanging from a noose.

Hanging Tree

The Ashworth family came from the Pee Dee (Pendleton District) area of South Carolina and moved to the Louisiana and Texas areas in the early 1800’s, settling into the Orange, Texas area as well as the Calcasieu, Louisiana areas, traveling back and forth across the border between these states.

William and Deleide had 13 children. William, himself, was one of 11 children. The patriarch of the family was James Ashworth, who married Keziah Dial/Dyal and they bore 11 children. I don’t believe that it was strangers who filed for a piece of Flora’s lawsuit but rather, they had so many offspring that there were countless family members. I don’t believe Flora would have known them since her grandmother seemed to have left the Ashworth family, changed her name and died before Flora was born.

Texas itself, going through a historic time, first the Revolution, the Texas Declaration of Independence, then being invaded by Mexico several times, and by 1845, the 28th State of the United States, just ten short years before the Civil War. So while the Ashworth family had been welcomed to the community, buying property, owning businesses, there was a newspaper article that was published on July 4, 1856 in the Calcasieu Press. This person asserted that there was a need to drive out the gang of gamblers, cow and hog and horse thieves, mail robbers, counterfeiters and murderers that have been living in the Orange County area of Texas for quite a few years and that the they had become wicked beyond endurance. They had been ordered to leave the area and this was to include all of the Mulatto families and their white associates. He seems to be referencing the Ashworth family. Crazy how the other townsfolk had been willing to stand up for them years before, and yet, these are the same people who turned against them.

They were being drummed out of the town.

Why they were being drummed out is questionable.

This was not the first time that the family had been singled out for behavior that, from a white person, would have been acceptable. Like being married. In the spring of 1847, Henderson was charged with adultery, stemming from the fact that he was considered a Negro and his wife was white, which was against the law. However, as it was an inappropriate charge the Sheriff couldn’t make the charge stick so then he was then charged with fornication. However, he and Letitia Stewart were married and therefore, fornication could not apply. Henderson fought this charge all the way to the Supreme Court, but they were found guilty and charged a $100 fine.

On May 15, 1856, Clark Ashworth was arrested for illegally butchering a hog. Mind you, hogs were wild but someone claimed it was his and Clark was arrested. Because the Ashworth clan was friendly with the Sheriff, Clark was allowed to escape. Clark’s cousin Sam Ashworth went to confront the Deputy Sheriff Sam Deputy (I guess he was in the right profession) and Sam Ashworth was arrested for abusive language from a Negro toward a white person. He was sentenced to 30 lashes.

Sam Ashworth was hauled before a judge and released on bond. He was humiliated and looking for revenge. He and another cousin by the name of Jack Bunch lay in wait for Deputy Sheriff Deputy (couldn’t resist!) with a revolver and two shot guns

shotgun

Sam Ashworth and Jack Bunch shot at D.S.Deputy and his companion, unloaded all of their ammunition on him, wounding him, but when he didn’t die, they bashed his head in with the butt of the gun.

Since the Sheriff was in the Ashworth camp, he was the one who allowed Sam Ashworth to escape, so another deputy pulled together a posse to search for the escaped suspects. For two weeks, free black people were harassed,  their homes plundered and burned, warning the occupants to vacate their town.  Several families moved back across the river to Louisiana but the men would return to try to protect their land, cattle and freedom.

The area of Orange, Texas became a hotbed of shootings and killings over the next couple of months.

On one side was the Regulators and on the other, the Moderators.

The guns, a skiff, and a disguise were given to Sam Ashworth by Henderson Ashworth.

news article henderson ashworth

So Henderson Ashworth comes to the end of his life at the end of a rope along with Jack Bunch. Sam Ashworth escapes, moves to the Indian Territory and serves in the Civil War. Letitia Stewart Ashworth becomes a 27 year old widow with six children under the age of 7. She is living in Calcasieu Louisiana, next door to Ashworth family and she, herself, is gone four years later, along with her mother, brother, and most of her children. Only the two girls grew to be adults and have families.

It is interesting to note that the Ashworth family owned extensive land in the Orange, Texas area. Could greed have been the reason why they were drummed out of town? It is certainly possible.

The land owned by James Ashworth was the land where oil was discovered.

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Along comes the 1920’s and Flora’s Great Uncle is knocking at her door, telling her of their inheritance, their windfall. Henderson Ashworth’s life, while short and tragic, produced two daughters and established his legacy.

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